How Kikwete, New Darling of the
West, Saved the Country From Collapse
The East African (Nairobi)
3 March 2008
What influence and clout did the chairman of the African Union,
Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, bring to bear on the
Kenyan mediation process?
Those were the questions on the lips of most observers as the
country celebrated last Thursday's historic breakthrough in the
His intervention came at a time when the negotiations were on the
brink of collapse. But Kikwete came into the scene with confidence,
declaring that a deal was in the making - and sure enough, it was.
What did he tell President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga?
One theory has is that he came to town with a terse message from
US President George W. Bush to the effect that the power-sharing
deal must be sealed by all means.
As chairman of the African Union, Kikwete has recently emerged as
a key ally and kingpin of the US in the region.
Although this same message had already been passed to Kibaki by US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had visited Nairobi
barely a week earlier, Kikwete's intervention was bound to meet
with a better reception in Nairobi considering that he came to the
Kenyan capital wearing two hats - president of a neighbouring
fellow member of the East African Community as well as chairman of
the African Union.
His visit to Nairobi had added significance in the wake of
thinly-veiled threats by the US government, the European Union and
even the United Nations of an intervention in the country if the
mediation talks failed.
It was US top diplomat Jendayi Frazer who early this month on the
sidelines of a summit meeting of the African Union in Ethiopia
first issued the threat that the international community would
impose a solution on Kenya if the mediation process led by Kofi
If any such intervention was indeed being contemplated, the person
who would have known its scope and full consequences would have
been the chairman of the African Union.
Hence, the theory that Kibaki capitulated in the face of the
threat of an AU-led military intervention in the Kenyan crisis.
It appears that the US and other Western powers were worried that
without concerted and sustained pressure, the AU would treat the
Kenyan crisis with the same lukewarm approach it has adopted on
Kikwete's intervention indicates that the Tanzanian president, who
came to power in 2005, is gradually becoming the linkman of the US
in the region, having replaced Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni.
Signs that the US now considers President Kikwete its chief
regional ally came in September 2006 when it emerged, to Nairobi's
fury, that Kikwete had discussed Kenya's "instability" with
President Bush during a visit to the White House.
Kikwete's rise as a regional kingpin has been bolstered by a
high-profile anti-graft campaign he recently launched that has
seen former powerful members of Tanzania's ruling party, Chama cha
Mapinduzi (CCM), fall one after another - allowing him to redraw
power centres and reform the grand old party.
He dissolved the Cabinet after he had accepted the resignation of
his prime minister, Edward Lowassa, and two other ministers, Nazir
Karamagi and Ibrahim Msabaha, who were both implicated in a major
The ministers and several other officials were accused of
interfering with an energy contract to favour the US-based
Richmond Company, contravening laws and rules on procurement.
Observers also saw the reshuffle as a move to dismantle corruption
networks within CCM and reclaim party organs from the control of a
Having been elected the new AU chairman on January 31 this year at
the summit in Addis Ababa, Kikwete's role in resolving the Kenyan
political crisis has given the AU a much-needed shot in the arm
after its dismal performance in Darfur and Somalia.
As with the defunct Organisation of African Unity, the AU
Constitutive Act adopted in July 2000 in Lome, Togo, prohibits
interference by any member state in the internal affairs of
But Article 4 (h) gives the Union the right to intervene in a
member state pursuant to a decision of the assembly in respect of
grave circumstances such as war crimes, genocide and other crimes
It is instructive that despite accepting the AU-sanctioned
mediation, the Kenyan government had earlier maintained that the
country was not at war and that an internal solution could be
reached, despite the fact that the political crisis in Kenya has
had a huge impact on the economies of
Southern Sudan, Uganda, eastern Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.
The new deal involves the creation of the post of prime minister,
which will put Kenya on the path to fully adopting a parliamentary
system, a goal that has eluded the country for the past 15 years.
However, it is Kikwete's emergence as an influential figure in the
region that could spark a major realignment within the Great Lakes
region. Until now, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, who is also
the Commonwealth chairman, was believed to be the darling of the
However, his victory in the disputed 2006 elections and the
harassment of opposition figures before and after the polls dented
his image as a reformer who had saved Uganda from sliding into
Similarly, his move to change the constitution to do away with the
presidential term limit did not go down well in the West.
In the late 1990s, Museveni, together with the late Congolese
president Laurent Desire Kabila, Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Meles
Zenawi (Ethiopia) and Isaias Aferworki of Eritrea, were seen by
the West as a "new breed" of leaders with the vision to move
While President Museveni still remains a strong ally of the West,
President Kibaki has had a love-hate relationship with the West
since he adopted his "Look East" policy.